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Holden Astra fit for the premium small-car field

Popular past: The Astra nameplate still holds sway in Australia, according to Holden, and the new version will be in showrooms in October or November this year.

No Cruze-like driveaway deals as pricier Holden Astra takes aim at Mazda3, VW Golf


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11 Aug 2016

GM HOLDEN will have no choice but to abandon the outgoing Cruze’s $19,990-driveaway pricing strategy when production of the Australian-made version ceases on October 7 and the Astra hatch from Europe takes its place in the company’s small-car line-up.

With the imported next-generation Cruze sedan still believed to be up to a year away from launch, Holden will instead rely on the more expensive Astra’s European heritage and reputation to move the company up into the premium end of the mainstream small-car segment against strong sellers such as the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf.

To that end, even the new base Astra five-door hatch from a projected $21,000 before on-road costs will ditch General Motors’ long-lived 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, for a downsized direct-injection turbo in either 1.4-litre or 1.6-litre guises, depending on the transmission and variant.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the new Colorado pick-up in Queensland this week, Holden executive director of sales Peter Keley said he was confident that there are enough private buyers willing to pay extra for a superior small car.

“The Mazda3 isn’t priced at a $19,990 driveaway price point, yet it is one of the top-selling vehicles,” Mr Keley said. “What people are looking for then are small cars that provide the complete package – they need it to look good, drive good, handle good, and provide high levels of quality. People are willing to see the value in that.”

Along with lightweight engineering that has resulted in a 120kg weight loss over its fifth-generation predecessor, advanced safety and driver-assist systems will be made available, underlining the substantial technological leap Holden’s C-segment contender will have taken to help justify the higher pricing and positioning compared with the Cruze when sales commence in October or November.

Mr Keley went on to name-check the highly successful TS Astra sold in Australia between 1998 and 2005 as the template from which he hopes the new-generation hatch will follow.

“Holden knows how this games works,” he said. “If you remember back to the TS Astra, we were the top-selling private small car… and it was priced up there with the best of the small-car vehicles, and people bought a lot of them.

“So with cars like the next Astra, which has won European Car of the Year, the credentials of the car are already there. Astra is still a very powerful nameplate. People know what Astra stands for. It stands for quality, and it stands for European heritage. And that’s what we will be providing.”

Codenamed the BK, the Astra will be the seventh-generation GM front-drive C-segment small car, and is part of Holden’s 24 new vehicle releases and 30 powertrain combinations by 2020.

It will top a busy launch year for the company that has also seen the facelifted Colorado (including the renamed seven-seater Trailblazer out in September), and all-new Spark, as well as the Trax small SUV facelift due at the end of 2016 or early next year.

The existing PJ-series Astra Sport three-doors are expected to continue for the time being, until their replacements based on the newer five-door hatch models arrive by 2018.

The TS Astra was a massive success for Holden in the early 2000s, racking up in excess of 100,000 sales in its seven-year run, and only trailing the Toyota Corolla in the hotly contested small-car sales race.

However, currency fluctuation-related price hikes and the arrival of tougher competition such as the Mazda3 impacted the popularity of the replacement model, the AH, from 2004 to 2009, prompting GM to concentrate on the cheaper Cruze out of South Korea instead.

The latter in sedan and hatch guises went into local production alongside the Commodore and Caprice in Elizabeth, South Australia, from early 2011.

Despite Mr Keley letting the cat out of the bag late last year that the next-gen Cruze sedan would be offered in Australia as an import from South Korea, Holden is yet to officially confirm that it will be part of the company’s new-model onslaught.

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